Australia’s first large-scale PV project comes online

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Joined by Western Australia’s Energy Minister Peter Collier, representatives from Verve Energy, GE Energy Financial Services and First Solar are celebrating the opening of Australia’s first large-scale PV project. The 10MW Greenough River Solar Farm is located on 80 hectares of land near Geraldton, Western Australia, and was officially connected on October 9.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Collier said, “Today, the community is celebrating Australia's renewable energy future, and this is only the beginning. The Western Australia community has developed a genuine appetite for renewable energy, and today we are 10 megawatts closer to a cleaner energy future”.

The project, which took more than a year of planning, designing, construction and testing, utilizes more than 150,000 advanced thin-film PV modules supplied by First Solar. The US solar behemoth was also responsible for the EPC services and will provide operations and maintenance services for the next 15 years.

“First Solar is helping make large-scale solar power a reality in Australia,” said Mark Widmar, First Solar chief financial officer. “This landmark project provides a strong foundation for the long-term adoption of large-scale solar projects in the Australian power market. We are delighted to have partnered with local suppliers and contractors to deliver this project and to lead the development of a large-scale solar industry in Australia.”

The 10MW solar farm is expected to generate enough electricity to power 3,000 homes. The plant’s output will be purchased by the WA Water Corporation in order to help offset the energy requirements of its Southern Seawater Desalination Plant.

However, the CEO of Verve Energy Jason Waters revealed that its company and GE Energy Financial Services are now “evaluating the possibility of expanding the plant to up to 40MW to satisfy growing demand for renewable energy”.

The solar farm is jointly owned by Western Australian state-owned power utility Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services which each hold a 50% share in the project. Moreover, it represents GE Energy Financial Services’ first renewable energy investment in Australia. 

“GE is one of the world's largest renewable energy investors and the Greenough River Solar Farm is just one example of the significant projects we can help turn into reality,” said Matt O'Connor, managing director at GE Energy Financial Services. “We see incredible investment opportunities in Australia and look forward to expanding on this successful project and applying our expertise to help the country's renewable energy market grow.”

The project was partly financed by Western Australia’s government which provided A$20 million, of which A$10 million was sourced from the WA Royalties for Regions programme. No debt was raised to fund the project.

News of the large-scale project is sure to be welcomed by the Australian government which has been pushing for a major shake-up of the renewables industry. It has set a target of generating 20% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. In order to help reach this target, the government introduced a tax on carbon in order to encourage investment in greener sources of energy, including solar power, and set up the Australian Renewable Energy Agency in July 2011.
 

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